The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP official in viral town hall video is known for sharing misleading stories, bigoted jokes

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) held a town hall meeting to discuss health care with voters. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

As news networks have scrambled to put cameras in congressional town hall meetings, a few of their attendees and speakers have earned short bursts of fame — or infamy. Bill Akins, the secretary of the Republican executive committee in Florida's Pasco County, became the star of a CNN segment after he was heckled for saying that the Affordable Care Act created death panels for the elderly.

“There's a provision in there that anyone over the age of 74 has to go before what is effectively a death panel,” said Akins at a town hall led by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), who represents a safe GOP seat on the state's Gulf Coast. “Yes, they do! Yes, they do! It's in there, folks!”

Bill Akins, the secretary of the Republican executive committee in Florida's Pasco County, spoke at a town hall led by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) in New Port Richey, Fla. (Video: Thomas Johnson/New Port Richey)

Akins, hardly a public figure until the town hall, was representative of a phenomenon that burbled under the headlines in 2016, and burst through after President Trump's victory. After eight years of a Democratic presidency that enraged Republican activists, conspiracy thinking frequently went viral on conservative social media accounts. Some lower-level Republican officials fell for the theories, and shared them, too. A quick look through Akins's account over the past year reveals almost daily examples of false, misleading or bigoted stories and memes being shared for his audience.

1. Black rioters can be compared to monkeys. 

2. “Chemtrails” left by airplanes are a public health risk.

3. Hillary Clinton murdered her political opponents.

4. Antonin Scalia might have been murdered.

5. Saudi Arabia funded Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.

6. Nancy Pelosi is mentally handicapped.

7. Former president Barack Obama was foreign-born and Muslim.

8. The left is engendering hatred against white people.

9. “Climate change” is a globalist hoax.

10. President Trump's inauguration crowd was bigger than photos portrayed.

11. Muslims can't claim racial discrimination.

12. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called for women to be raped by Muslims.

That quote, an obvious fake, was debunked by Snopes last month. But none of Akins's posts seemed to hurt Republican performance in his county. After voting for Mitt Romney over Obama in 2012 by 7 points, the county gave Trump a 21-point landslide victory.